We are now at the beginning of a new era of technological innovation in which new generations of the technologies that have emerged since the second world war are converging and undergoing widespread integration, making whole new fields possible, including artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, nanomedicine, next-generation genomics, neurotechnology and geo-engineering. These are socially disruptive technologies (SDTs) that have the potential to radically alter everyday life, cultural practices and social and economic institutions. Societal disruption may well be necessary and desirable for responding to pressing global problems such as climate change and depletion of natural resources. But the technologies also raise tough moral questions that are in need of ethical evaluation. A complication is they may affect the basic concepts and values that we normally appeal to in our ethical thinking, such as the distinction between nature and artifact or our conceptions of freedom and responsibility. A reflective turn in the ethics of technology is therefore necessary.
This research programme in ethics and practical philosophy of technology seeks to realize that reflective turn. Our aim is to reorient the field of ethics of technology by taking up the challenge that SDTs pose to our core concepts. In particular, to the concepts that underlie our moral self-understanding, such as (moral) agency, autonomy, human interdependence, and responsibility; to the concepts that form the basis of our political, social and legal institutions, such as democracy, justice, and equality; and to the basic ontological categories that we use to order our world, such as the distinctions between natural and artificial, humans and machines, public and private, and agents and physical systems.
In this research programme, we aim to develop 21th–century ontological and moral concepts for a 21th–century world. The conceptual reevaluations and innovations that this research brings forth will be used not only to innovate ethics of technology, but also the field of ethics and practical philosophy as a whole, as well as the social sciences. In parallel we aim to develop new theories and methods that are necessary to understand, morally assess and intervene in the development and implementation of this new generation of socially disruptive technologies.